Advice for Healthy Living
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Modern science and technology have made many comforts widely available, raising our standard of living. Much of this has come at a significant cost. We see this not only in terms of the environmental burden of fossil fuel consumption, pesticides and fertilizers, but also in terms of personal stress. The pace of change is rapid and many find themselves on a treadmill working long hours to earn the money to pay for all they desire. As a result, we have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world and our inner-most selves. Bedtime is driven by TV, etc. and wake up time is managed with alarms, not the rising and setting of the sun. Hypertension, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have become the norm.
Ayurvedic knowledge is timeless. It is applicable to human life at all times and places to support evolution and prevent problems. It's purpose is to re-connect us with our innermost self. In fact, the one-word Ayurvedic definition of health is Swastha - established in the Self (Atma, pure consciousness, the self of everyone). If our consciousness is permanently established on that level which is home to all the laws of nature, i.e., transcendental pure consciousness, we spontaneously act in full accord with those laws and do not make the mistakes that bring harm to ourselves or others. That field of pure consciousness is open to direct experience via TM and certain other forms of meditation.
For this reason, regular practice of TM is the single best thing anyone can do to protect health. Moreover, it is effortless. All that's required is to sit comfortably with the eyes closed for about 20 minutes twice a day. The result is that we can do less and accomplish more. TM has been shown to induce a "wakeful, hypo-metabolic state" more restful than sleep itself, which is associated increased brain coherence as measured by EEG. With time, that coherence and associated feeling of inner calm gradually increases outside of meditation. The progression correlates with measures of creativity, moral reasoning, conceptual learning, etc. More than 600 scientific studies have validated the benefits of TM practice across all aspects of life, particularly for health as illustrated by the following examples (also see research summary):
In any case, personal growth and evolution is a journey. Progress is best supported by a daily routine that features cycles of rest and activity. Until our consciousness is Cosmic, it is helpful to have some guidelines for self-care based on ancient wisdom. Here is the Ayurvedic recommendation.
Use plain cured sesame oil to lubricate and protect your nasal passages. Put a drop of oil in one palm, then roll the tip of the little finger of the other hand in the oil. Now use that little finger to gently apply oil to the right and left nostrils with a slight twisting motion as you go in and out a short distance. Be very careful not to scratch the lining of your nose, especially if you have long finger nails! Then pinch the nostrils together and sniff, release and repeat – to draw the oil upwards. Do Nasya twice a day, morning and late afternoon. If desired, you can also do Nasya before going out and on returning to the house. In summer, however, it’s better not to do this form of Nasya during the mid-day. You can do Nasya in the evening, but not immediately before going to bed.
For Pitta balance, ghee can be used instead of sesame oil. For Vata balance or allergy symptoms, MAPI Clear & Soothe may offer extra benefits. If it's too strong, it can be diluted 50-50 with cured sesame oil.
Sip a small amount of cured sesame oil. Hold in the mouth and swish around for a few minutes or more, if comfortable. I find it convenient to do Abhyanga while swishing.
Expectorate into a plastic-lined waste basket, not the sink. You wouldn't want the oil to clog your drain or septic system. If desired, you can take another small sip to use as a gargle and expectorate as before.
Gently massage the gums on the outside of your teeth with your index finger. Rinse the mouth with some plain water and spit. It would be fine to use the sink now. Then gargle with some more water and spit.
Abhyanga is a form of massage. It is a standard element of intensive Ayurvedic treatment known as Pancha Karma in which 2 trained technicians simultaneously, symmetrically and systematically massage the whole body with specially formulated oils. Abhyanga can also be accomplished through self-massage.
Daily self-massage is most balancing Vata and is good for everyone. A classic Ayurvedic text advises to give yourself a full body oil massage on a daily basis, because it is nourishing, pacifies the Doshas, relieves fatigue, provides stamina, pleasure and perfect sleep, enhances the complexion and the luster of the skin, promotes longevity and nourishes all parts of the body.
Cured sesame oil is generally preferred. Coconut oil or olive oil can be substituted where there is Pitta imbalance. Neither coconut or olive oil should be cured. Dry massage can be also be done done with raw silk gloves (Garshan mittens) instead of oil when there is significant Ama or a weight problem. Garshan is much like dry brushing. With Garshan, the direction of massage is reversed from peripheral to central, i.e., towards the heart. In either case, we make circular movements over the joints and back and forth motions over the long bones.
In Abhyanga, the idea is to massage the oil into the skin. Your skin need not be excessively oily when you’re finished. For a video demonstration of the process see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4J4uKf52ZQ. It correctly emphasizes that even a short Abhyanga is better than none, but there are several errors to be aware of:
You do not need to use soap or shampoo after Abhyanga except for the places you want to clean for other purposes. Soap is drying to the skin. Your towels may pick up some oil residue which you can deal with when you launder them.
Abhyanga is an invigorating way to start the day. Because it is settling to the nervous system, it may also be done in the late afternoon to promote sound sleep. Alternatively, apply a little oil to the head, forearms/hands and lower legs/feet or just rub a little ghee on the arches of the feet at bedtime without bathing. Keep the ghee or oil on your nightstand so you don't slip or track oil across the house.
To cure a entire bottle of oil, pour it into a small sauce pot and set the heat to medium. For greatest control, use a candy thermometer. Heat the oil to 225° F. Do not exceed 250° or you'll burn the oil. Alternatively, just add a drop of water before heating. When you hear some pops or sputtering from the water in the oil, remove the pot from the heat and allow the oil to cool. Then pour it back in the original bottle with the help of a funnel. Keep some in a smaller bottle for daily use. Be careful with glass bottles! They can be slippery to handle and you don’t need broken glass in your bathroom. You can adequately warm the oil by rubbing a small amount between your palms before each application. If you prefer, you can warm your bottle of oil for a few minutes in a sink-full of hot water.